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Project Arts Center: Northern Star

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It was on a Belfast mountain I heard a maid complain
And she vexed the sweet June evening with her heartbroken strain,
Saying, "Woe is me, life's anguish is more than I can dream,
Since Henry Joy McCracken died on the gallows tree.
- Irish Folk Song

We need to talk about The Rebellion. The 1798 Rebellion.

Being completely overshadowed by The Troubles and the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 has been almost completely forgotten in the twenty first century. To the Republican ears of 2016 such names as Henry Joy McCracken or James Hope are nothing but estranged ghosts of the past. Rough Magic‘s strategically brilliant decision to bring a piece like Northern Star onto the Irish stage on the centenary of the Easter Rising is  quite admirable.

Having directed Northern Star a number of times before, this might be the year that Lynne Parker (who also happens to be a niece of the playwright’s) has finally “cracked” one of the most famous and much loved of  Stewart Parker’s plays.

Lynne Parker didn’t only create a very strong production, she has also pushed the boundaries to such an extent that any theatre maker can use the example of Northern Star as a play where gender has very little or absolutely no relevance. Having both Eleanor Methven and Ali White play male roles put this production onto a completely new level and linked the 1984 script with the Irish reality of 2016.

Northern Star is undoubtedly nothing less but a theatrical masterpiece. Telling the story of one very shaky night in the life of Henry Joy McCracken, a founding member of the Society of the United Irishman and what looks like a chronic insomniac, who is going through seven (st)ages of a man’s life. While the young and beautiful Mary Bodell is trying to catch some sleep upstairs in the loft with McCracken’s illegitimate baby daughter by her side, the young Irishman meets the ghosts of  past and present. He talks to them, he converses with them, sometimes he just sits there and listens to their stories… sometimes the visions are interrupted by the reality: McCracken is visited by his sister Mary Ann, who helps him to get new  identification documents just before the British officer comes to inspect the Irishman’s shed.

Northern Star is a juicy bone; it has a lot of substance in it, a lot to take it, a plot worth sticking your teeth into. For two solid hours the intriguing storyline and the mesmerizing acting grabs your full attention and doesn’t let it go even for a blink of an eye. Divided into seven (st)ages in total, we first witness McCracken during his Sheridan innocence, slowly but firmly progressing into Boucicault old-fashioned melodrama (which slightly resembles the pompous and over the top Commedia dell’arte), then going through somewhat witty and highly amusing Wilde-ness straight into Shaw’s realism, O’Casey’s heroism and Irishness, and rounding up with a very Beckettian chilling to the core ending. All the way from laughter to tears, this piece will leave you in beats.

Even for those who are not that much into theatre, all the styles used in this play will be easily identifiable and much enjoyed. Not to give any spoilers I can only add that one or two scenes will make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle, be it from the horror of the realism of the terror and spookiness of the supernatural. Every viewer will find something to enjoy and to identify with, that one I can guarantee.

It’s not just the brilliantly written and structured story that will amuse and completely conquer the audience, it’s the wonderful ensemble of actors (Rory Nolan, Eleanor Methevn, Ali White, Darragh Kelly, Charlotte McCurry, Robbie O’Connor, Paul Mallon and Richard Clements) and crew that has visibly put an enormous amount of time and thought into this production.

If all that hasn’t been enough to make you want to go and see Northern Star, then wait until I mention the technical aspects of the play. I have never doubted the amazing Zia Holly in her craft but in this production her work is simply stunning. With a very sharp and precise direction on Lynne Parker’s side and Holly’s designs of set and lighting, the play immediately transports you into the agonising night of McCracken’s tired mind. Conveniently, it has a strong resemblance to a theatre’s wings. “All the world’s a stage,  and all the men and women merely players…” says McCracken quoting Shakespeare.

Joan O’Cleary is the one who is responsible for the costume designs. With a total cast of eight actors, almost all of them are doubling and tripling, the costume changes happen so quickly that one can’t help but question oneself if it’s the same person standing on the stage. “But that’s what Stewart Parker wanted”, says Lynne Parker “the actors can switch roles by simply taking off or putting on a hat”. Nevertheless, the idea of having McCracken always wearing the same jacket that would easily identify him (the character is played by different actors male and female) during different (st)ages of his life is simple but ingenious, at the same time.

All the music and sound effects are done live by the actors on stage. Some of the sounds are really basic and created by simply tapping on a tambourine, but it’s the perfect timing and the effect it makes on the scene that makes all the difference. Charlotte McCurry’s a’capella singing is simply stunning.

Northern Star runs in The Project Arts Center until May 7th, after which the play is going go on a short tour to The Lyric Theatre Belfast and The Tron Theatre Glasgow. Perfect for its time, this production is a true masterpiece of Northern Irish Theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/northern-star/

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Filed under Irish plays, Irish Stage, Lyric Theatre, Northern Star, Project Arts Center, Rough Magic Theatre Company, The Lyric Theatre

#WakingTheFeminists

Just back from #WakingTheFeminists meeting at The Abbey.

I’m trying to think of words that could describe the emotion and the energy charge that was created in The Abbey’s Auditorium this afternoon… and there are simply no words big or explicit enough.

My passion for theatre started in The Abbey more than five years ago. If it wasn’t for that theatre, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And even though, I do not have an Irish passport I consider it my National Theatre. In the last three years I barely missed a play in The Abbey. For the last two and a half years I was also a member of the Abbey. I was there when Waking The Nation programme was announced.

I’m not going to lie, I liked the programme. And to my shame, it has never even occurred to me to count how many plays were written/directed by women. I’m very glad that Lian Bell did it for me and for all of us. And I’m also very glad and thankful that she brought attention to the problem. It was a very brave and courageous move. It was also a push that we all needed.

Lian might have been the first to vocalise the truth. But she is not alone. Not anymore. There are hundreds and thousands of both women and men out there waiting, yearning for gender equality. And today’s meeting was just another proof of it! The Abbey’s main space has slightly under 500 seats… for all I know, the event was sold out in less than half an hour after the tickets became available, and today there were more than a hundred on the wait list queueing outside hoping to get in. On a Thursday afternoon, all those people from all around the country and abroad came to The Abbey to support the gender equality. They didn’t come to see a show; they didn’t come to a catch a freebie; they came to show their support and respect for their fellow theatre artists. They came because it mattered. It mattered to show that regardless of your gender, profession or nationality you recognise the huge gender imbalance and flow in the system that supports and encourages the imbalance. It mattered because, just like some six month earlier, our future (and that of our children) depended on here and now. 2016 is a very important year in the Irish history. Let’s not forget that the history was written by both men and women. So why a hundred years after we shall forget about it?

As I said at the beginning, I have no words to express my feelings right now. I’ve been in a super hyper active cycle ever since I found out I got a ticket for the meeting today. I still can’t believe that it happened. I want to thank all the amazing actors, directors, playwrights and theatre makers who spoke on and off The Abbey stage today. Each one of the speeches was incredibly powerful and important to hear. I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to have an opinion and to express that opinion. Even though the problem of gender inequality has existed in the Irish society for a good while now, it’s great that women finally started speaking out (and look at all the brave and beautiful voices they have!). Every single word spoken in The Abbey today has indeed travelled. And not only in space, but also in time. For, hopefully, years and generations after today will be seen as a day that did make a difference. I strongly believe in the importance of vocalisation of your thoughts and opinions. If it’s not said out loud, it can’t exist. And women were kept in silence for way too long.

As a theatre lover, maker, goer, critic… myself, I strongly believe in female voices and stories. That’s a side of life we all want and need to hear (for once!). People say, it’s 2015, it’s time… I say, it’s been time for the last 2015 years and beyond. Our society has shackled and put limitation on us, women; with years those invisible chains grew only bigger and heavier. But a woman isn’t a small and helpless creature… A woman, any woman, is a true warrior. And it’s time to shake off those chains to finally free out voices.

The Abbey wants to wake the nation. Well, we are wide awake and ready and there’s not a single thing that will stop us now.

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Waking the Nation – 2016 in The Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre has launched its 2016 Waking the Nation programme. And I must say it looks amazing!

2016 is going to be a very special year for Ireland. A centenary since the 1916 Easter Raising. I won’t be mistaken if I say that many theaters have already started celebrating with plays and performances touching the matter of the Irish Civil War.

The new year for the Abbey Theatre will be opened with the fourth and last in the series of George Bernard Shaw plays: You Never Can Tell. The cast for this production has been only recently announced and it’s going to be fantastic: the veterans of the Irish stage Eleanor Methven and Eamon Morrissey will be joined by some of Ireland’s most finest actors and actresses. The very talented Genevieve Hulme-Beaman will debut on The Abbey stage in this production. And being a huge fan of Pondling, I wish her best of luck and many more shows to come!

2016 will also bid its farewell to the series of the theatre symposia. The last of the three symposia in The Abbey: The Theatre of Change Symposium will take place during three days from January 21st to 23rd. Even though the full list of speakers haven’t been announced yet, my own experience is telling me that it’s an event not to be missed. Here is the link to my post about last year’s symposium.

In February The Abbey will open its doors for nine days only to All That Fall, a new collaboration with the highly acclaimed Pan Pan Theatre Company.

Obviously, no celebration of 2016 would be complete without one of Ireland’s most favourite and dearest plays: The Plough and The Stars. Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece will open the spring season in The Abbey. It has been already revealed that Jack Clitheroe  will be played by Ian Lloyd-Anderson and Kate Stanley Brennan will be our new Nora. The last time The Abbey staged this production was in 2012-2013 winter season, when the main stage was being renovated and the production was shown in The Belvedere Theatre. The Plough and The Stars will tour to Britain and Northern American after the Abbey’s run.

Joe Dowling is coming back to The Abbey. On the 400th anniversary since Shakespeare’s death, Dowling will present one of the bards’ most famous plays: Othello, with Peter Macon as the protagonist.

As the year progresses, another truly and purely Irish play will be produced to commemorate the 1916’s centenary. Tom Murphy’s The Wake will see its new reincarnation on The Abbey stage from late June to July.

The Wake will be succeded by another beloved Irish play about 1916 and one of its bloodiest battles, the battle of the Somme. Frank McGuinness’ Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching towards The Somme will be produced on The Abbey Stage in August and later the production will tour to Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Peacock Theatre will also be facing a very busy but truly challenging and interesting year. Tina’s idea of Fun, a new play by Sean P. Summers about the day before Queen Elizabeth II came to Ireland, will open in mid April. Hilda Fey will play the protagonist – Tina.

Going back to the Theatre of War symposium, The Abbey Theatre wants once again to bring the public attention to the current situation in the Middle East. New Middle East, a new prize-winning play by Mutaz Abu Saleh about the conflict between Israel and Palestine will be brought to Ireland by Khashabi Theatre of Haifa during the Easter week.

David Ireland will be presenting his new black comedy Cyprus Avenue about a Belfast Loyalist Eric Miller who can’t stop living in the past, in February 2016. Stephen Rea has been revealed to play Eric.

In 2016 The Abbey Theatre will also try to focus on the younger generation and try to engage as many children and teenagers into theatre and arts as possible. Ali White will return with her highly acclaimed and deeply touching play Me, Mollser. The play will also tour.

And the last but not least. A special treat for those who enjoyed Alice in Funderland some few years back, the writer Philip McMahon will be presenting his new humorous Dublin music, about the life and the death in the city, Town is Dead.

The booking for all new productions will officially open in two weeks. 2016 – Waking the Nation year in The Abbey looks pretty amazing, so I would strongly advise you to book tickets for any performances you are interested in as soon as possible. For more info: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/full_events_calendar/fin

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Filed under 2016 The Abbey Programme, The Abbey Theatre, The Peacock Theatre, Waking the Nation

WeGetHighOnThis Theatre Collective

We Get High On This Theatre Collective is an extremely talented group of three people who united together to make theatre happen. Quite human, beautiful and challenging theatre, I must say.

Even from its very name We get high on this, the collective already makes a bold statement: whatever your drug is, ours is the theatre. This is what we love, this is what we want to do.

Caitríona Daly, Caitríona Ennis and Eoghan Carrick are indeed a collective, who immediately clicked together when they first met during their years in the famous UCD DramSoc. Three amazingly talented people, three creative souls, came together to write about people… real people, real human beings that live, and breathe, and laugh, and cry, and suffer, and make mistakes. Because, who doesn’t?

So why a theatre collective and not a company? You might ask and so did I. The answer is quite simply: it’s not a company, because nobody is in charge, nobody is the artistic director and the associate director or… they are all equal, they all have  equal rights and those who are writing today might be directing or acting, or even designing, tomorrow. Even though there are three official members of the collective, there is a good number of people who the they frequently collaborate with. Ste Murray, recently appearing in their new play Panned in Theatre Upstairs, being just one of them.

Since the birth of WeGetHighOnThis, the meaning of “collective” has slightly changed for its members. With each new production the three of them try to focus more and more on what they are really interested in and what they really want to show to the big audience; what sort of current (or not so current) issues they want to be talked about.

Whenever it comes to writing a new play, it mainly is about producing something fresh, something new. “Psychosis”, says Caitríona Daly. “People, it has always been about people. Honesty about real emotions and what they can do to people”, adds Eoghan.

Gender doesn’t make any difference in their plays. They write about people in its very human nature, be it a boy or a girl. Anybody can play anybody. Characters are not being fit under anybody’s standards or expectations. They are all human beings telling their stories to the world. Those stories are primarily about human experience that one might have with somebody else, or even with one self, especially with oneself.

We Get High On This is currently working on their new play “Panned”, written by Caitríona Daly, directed by Eoghan Carrick and starring Ste Murray. “Panned” had its first sold out preview last night and it’s opening on Thursday, July 16th.

For more info or to book tickets (if you haven´t done so yet!), please, visit http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/panned

Keep a close eye on this space as I am currently in the process of lifting the curtain on Panned. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to Caitríona Daly, Eoghan Carrick and Ste Murray about the play. So, those loyal readers of mine will be in for a surprise. The play sounds absolutely amazing and very original. Take into account only the fact that Ste Murray plays not 1 or 2 or even 5 but… 18 characters! I shall say no more until the next article.

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The Peacock Theatre: Scratch Night

Nothing wakes you up after a week holiday in Spain better that a night of theatre, laughter and friendly atmosphere in The Abbey Theatre.

Peacock Scratch Night takes place, as you could have guessed, in the Peacock Bar. The chairs are brought out and the mics are installed for a series of brand new extracts reading from works-in-progress by emerging Irish artists.  I would also like to mention that Scratch Night 2015 was completely sold out and when I arrived there were people waiting to see if they could get it.

This year there were 8 different extracts presented by 8 new but already highly acclaimed Irish playwrights; and a bonus piece by a well-know writer, whose name was kept in secret till the very end. It came as a nice surprise to find out that 4 actors will be doing the readings. For some reason I thought that the playwrights themselves might present their works.

So the four actors were: Ali White, Kate Stanley Brennan, Manus Halligan and Don Wycherley. Needless, to say that the acting (or shall I say the rehearsed reading?) was on an excellent level. It never ceases to amuse me how so naturally and believably some actors can switch characters.

The 8 extracts, each lasting approximately seven minutes, were: “Baggage” by Erica Murray, “Angels of Mercy” by Lee Coffey, “Through the Tabernacle” by Philip Doherty, “Normal” by Catriona Daly, “The Kudome Valentine” by John Morton, “Long to me thy coming” by Neil Flynn, “Something Lost” by Barry McStay and “The Church of Matthias Mulcahy” by Fiona Doyle.

All the pieces were very different. Some are better than others or, well, better to say that some were more elaborated than others. The mood was very different and constantly changing. Murray’s “Baggage”, for example, was light and funny, a perfect piece to set the mood and open the night while Coffey’s “Angels of Mercy” was about such a difficult and profoundly contrasting topic as euthanasia.

Personally my favourite one was “Through the Tabernacle” by Philip Doherty. The extract could have easily been an episode of Father Ted had it been written some twenty years ago. Very funny and edgy. Great characterisation and dialogue.

The long waited and gossiped about “Bonus” piece was an extract from a new play by Marina Carr. Another amazing piece with a very entertaining and original plot about a happy couple leaving in paradise, literally.

All the pieces left me wishing to hear more. Here goes to the hope that one day, hopefully in the near future, all nine productions will be staged!

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Filed under Irish Stage, New Plays, Peacock Thetare, Scratch Night, The Abbey Theatre, Theatre

The Peacock Theatre: Deadly

Yesterday was a very eventful day for me. I caught not one but two amazing events at The Abbey Theatre.

The first one being Noble Call for Marriage Referendum, which will take place later this month (May 22nd). Unfortunately, I had to leave the performance earlier to go and see Deadly on the Peacock stage.

Deadly is a play written and directed by Paddy Cunneen. Interestingly enough, originally this play was set in Glasgow and the cast was different (Scottish, not Irish). The story is about a gang from the streets of the poorest parts of Glasgow city. When the play was brought to Dublin and adopted to the Peacock Stage, some more changes had to be made to make the story sound more Irish.

The play tells a story of a local gang – scumbags – who come from the poor areas of Dublin. The director specifically didn’t want to set it anywhere in particular so anybody and everybody from Ireland (and specifically Dublin) could relate to it. So, this gang of under-educated and extremely violent young boys one day stabs an absolutely innocent young man from a middle-class family. The boy dies in his own pool of blood. The guy who does the stabbing tries to run away. He thinks the police will be after him. He thinks that he will be caught and will have to go to prison. He doesn’t want to go to prison. He feels guilty. He is lost. He doesn’t know what to do next.

By pure accident he meets the mother of the boy he stabbed. Heartbroken, she is not looking for the killer of her son. Well, not to take revenge on him, anyway. She just wants to know what it’s like to grow up where they (“the scumbags” as she calls them) grew up, to live where they live…

To be honest for the first part of the play I was a bit worried. The strong accents, the super-fast pace, the Shakespearean iambic pentameter (a very interesting and unusual choice to write this play in stanzas, isn’t it?)…. it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The whole subject and the absolute lack of female characters made me think that probably I should have stayed in The Abbey.

But everything changed the second Ali White walked on stage. Ali plays the mother of the stabbed boy. The contrast it brings to the whole play is immense. The pace changes, the mood changes, the whole atmosphere changes, even the meter changes since the mother speaks in prose. You can hardly believe that you are watching the same play.

It’s a truly beautiful piece of theatre with some superb acting!

Go and see before it ends on May, 15th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/deadly/

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